Skip to main content

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.


Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, like a sugar rush that just won’t dissipate, one that makes you sicker and sicker with each passing moment. Day-glo fizzy pop tunes daub over the deficiencies of plot, character and originality, accompanying action or montages to mindlessly euphoric effect; it’s the equivalent of a sitcom laugh track, exposing the basic lack of confidence in the material by bludgeoning the viewer with sentiments of happy-joy. As such, at one point, Oh, the alien Boov who befriends Tip (agreeably voiced by Jim Parsons), announces “This is not music. This is just noise”; it’s enough to make you long for the twee ramblings of Randy Newman, and I would never, ever normally condone such saccharine sensibilities.


The Boovs have invaded Earth, displacing the populace to other designated planetary areas in order to perpetuate their yen for fleeing whenever the fearsome Gorg encroach upon them. Tom J Astle and Matt Ember (the superior Epic) have essentially fashioned a vision of a benign universe, in which the worst that can be said of aliens is that they are stupid; Boov leader Captain Smek (Steve Martin, alas, in Looney Tunes: Back in Action over-exertion mode) is ultimately revealed to have brought down the wrath of the Gorg through inadvertently stealing their sperm bank during a peace meeting that absolutely echoes Adams’ meeting between the Vl’Hurgs and the G’Gugvuntts, only rather tepidly. There are numerous warnings about making assumptions of others throughout, from the true nature of the Gorg, to the Boov view that humans are just like animals, “simple and backwards”. And, of course, the humans teach the Boov a thing or two; in particular, Oh learns about courage. There’s even a lesson in art via Van Gogh (“It’s not about how they look, its about how they feel”).


This being an animation, plot holes tend to get a free pass, but I had to wonder how a 13 year-old girl is so au fait with driving (at one point Tip is overcome with concern over the absence of her mother, and it comes across as if the writers have only just remembered, at a very late stage, that she’s not an entirely self-sufficient, pro-active vessel for Rhianna), and the convenience of the alien equivalent of a text message (long gone are the days when writers would think up futuristic devices; now everything must be banally familiar) being sent to the entire universe (how does that work?) One wonders if the inoffensive Boov design comes consciously off the back of Minions; if so, it isn’t nearly as memorable.


Any movie that ends with “Now everyday is the best day ever” needs a shot of grounding to counteract its hyperbolic, bubble-gum pop sentiments and aesthetic, but Home only very occasionally reaches for something more. At one point Oh leaps into the ocean to restore his temperature to “happiness”, and there’s a moment of stillness as Tip sits on the bonnet of her modified car (pimped up, with the accompanying musical fanfare) waiting for his return. The design of the Gorg, and their reveal, is quite good, if reminiscent of the retconned Ice Warriors in Doctor Who. And tellingly, the best character here is Tip’s cat Pig, probably because no one can put mealy words in his mouth.


Most of the gags are fairly obvious, from Oh taking things literally (microwaving a cookbook, brushing his teeth with a toilet brush) to the usual splattering of toilet humour (Oh needs to Number Three at least once a year, which admittedly is a cut above usual standards, if not on the level of the seashells in Demolition Man), and that’s Home’s problem in the main. The ear-assaulting dance anthems and easy emoting aside, it’s a fairly inoffensive concoction, and a fairly obvious one. Tim Jonson started out so well with DreamWorks, co-directing what is still one of their best (and smartest) pictures Antz, but he’s slumming it with Home. Or maybe it’s down to that Katzenberg influence, doing his darndest to homogenise every detail of the DWA universe.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…